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Police use fake $3.4m artwork to lure and catch thieves

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638). Flemish painter. The Crucifixion or The Calvary, 1617. Museum of Fine Arts. Budapest. Hungary. Image: Getty

Police in a small Italian town are on the hunt for a group of art thieves after a failed attempt to steal a $3.4 million painting by Flemish master, Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

Thieves smashed open the painting’s display case to snatch the painting, Crucifixion, from the church in Castelnuova Magra in Liguria and made off in a vehicle.

However, unbeknownst to the thieves, the priceless painting they thought they’d stolen was actually a fake, and the whole heist was caught on camera.

Now, the Italian police are hunting down the thieves.

Mayor Daniele Montebello has revealed that he had been in on the plan, but that he had been unable to tell anyone prior to the attempt.

“Rumours were circulating that someone could steal the work, and so the police decided to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some cameras,” Montebello told The Guardian.

“I thank the police but also some of the churchgoers, who noticed that the painting on display wasn’t the original but kept up the secret.”

He said the theft would have been a “hard blow for our community”.

The painting had previously been hidden during WWII to protect it from German soldiers, and had been donated to the church by a wealthy family.

The country is a popular destination for art thieves, with half of the artefacts stolen in 2016 being held in churches.

Crucifixion depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ from above.

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